Abstracts – Arabic Lit in the Contemporary Humanities Curriculum


Session I: Teaching Arabic Literature: From the National to the Global

Paper 1: Classical Arabic Literature in the Arab World: Difficulties and Challenges
Hussain Abulfaraj, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Arabic Language & Literature, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Despite the preeminent status of classical literature within Arabic culture, it faces many challenges and obstacles that prevent the public, in general, and students, in particular, from studying it, let alone understanding and appreciating it. Some of these difficulties are internal and emerge from the dynamic nature of literature throughout the ages, such as the development or decline of the role of literature within the community and the emergence of new genres and the disappearance of others. On the other hand, some of these difficulties are due to external factors, such as the widespread of the use of the colloquial Arabic, in general, and in literary works, in particular; deficiencies of the literature curriculum and of traditional approaches in teaching Arabic literature; and the failure to develop both critical and pedagogical methodologies that inspire and engage students. In this paper, I shed light on and propose answers to overcoming some of the difficulties encountered by Arabic literature in the contemporary humanities curriculum.

Paper 2: Arabic Literature within the Framework of “World Literature”
Ahmad Almallah, Assistant Professor of Arabic & Arabic Literature, Middlebury College

Teaching Arabic literature in the U.S. within the context of “World Literature” courses depends on using the available translations of Arabic works into English. What I try to address in this paper is the following questions: to what extent are these available translations representative of Arabic literature, especially when studied as part of “World Literature”? Why does the novel and specific ones like “Season of Migration to the North,” and the works of Naguib Mahfouz seem to have more presence in world literature curriculums than other genres? What is the place of the qasida and more generally Arabic poetry in these curriculums? I try to provide answers to these questions by, first, trying to explore what is meant by “World Literature” and, second, by showing how the available translations try to fit Arabic literature within that framework. On this premise, I argue that the first step in bringing better representation of Arabic literature in what we call “World Literature” is to show the ideological and political implications of that term.

Session II: Arabic Literature in American Universities

Paper 1: Contemporary Arabic Literature for Heritage and Foreign Students: Challenges and Recommendations
Hanadi Al-Samman, Associate Professor of Arabic Language & Literature, Dept. of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia

The enterprise of teaching contemporary Arabic literature to heritage and foreign students faces real challenges and demands tangible remedies. For foreign students studying in American institutions, the choice is limited to translated texts that barely exceed the classics of Naguib Mahfouz and the pioneers of Arab feminism, with biased selections that are often the product of translation and publication markets. For advanced undergraduate students, reading the literary texts in their original Arabic, there is a dearth of accessible texts that can provide a glimpse of the current Arab literary scene, while accounting for the limitation of the students’ linguistic levels. Indeed, native students in the Arab world do not fare any better as the Arabic literature selection in their high school and university curricula follows a traditional mold of classical poetry and prose with no relevance to contemporary issues or literature. The current presentation attempts to address such challenges to teaching Arabic literature in US academe and the Arab world. By revisiting a pioneering experience of teaching a simplified version of contemporary Arabic texts at the University of Virginia, in particular Hoda Barakat’s abridged edition of Sayyidi wa Habibi/ My Master, My Lover (2013), I argue for a set of recommendations which promise to make Arabic literature accessible, enjoyable, and relevant to students’ abilities and aspirations.

Session III: Teaching Arabic between Language and Literature

Paper 1: Bridging the Gap between Language Lesson and Literature
Sayed Elsisi, Assistant Professor of Arabic Literature & Culture, University of Maryland

This presentation focuses on the necessity of experimenting with various creative approaches to teaching Arabic literature to undergraduate students in order to bridge the gap between their language background from their Arabic language courses and the Arabic literature course (taught in Arabic or in English) which they take out of their interest in Arabic literature or to fulfill their major or minor requirements. Those methods and criteria must be as variable and flexible in order to choose literary and critical texts that are commensurate with the level of students’ language proficiency as well as their practical motivations for joining the literature course. The presentation also explores a number of issues the teacher has to take into consideration regarding the choices of literary or critical texts for specific group of students to read in the classroom or outside the classroom. The possibility, for example, of providing some critical texts written in English or translated into English, when and how this could either serve or hinder the purpose of understanding and appreciating the Arabic literary text? The presentation discusses as well the problem – in quantity and quality – of the available English translations of important texts from the classical and modern heritage, and the effects of this problem on teaching, as well as research, in Arabic literature.

Developing Composition Skills in the Arabic Literature “Content” Course
Samer Ali, Associate Professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies, University of Texas at Austin

In recent years, content courses in Arabic have emerged as a practical way to exercise students’ linguistic muscles, while advancing their knowledge of various subjects in Arabic. In my experience though, I have aimed to move beyond subject matter to develop their critical and cognitive skills. These are skills that are consistent with the aims of a liberal arts education broadly. In this presentation, I will share a few strategies I have experimented with in my Thousand and One Nights course. In particular, I will discuss the use of “scaffolding” and “composition formulas” to teach critical thinking, writing, and persuasion. These exercises helped students to gradually write in longer and more complex formats: At first, they were asked to use a simple composition structure to write 300-word paragraphs on a simple familiar topic, but at the ACTFL OPI Superior Level. Then the topics became gradually more unfamiliar, abstract, and the structure more complex leading to extended essays of 900-1200 words. In the end, Arabic students received credit from the School of Undergraduate Studies for their writing requirements and showed evidence of improved writing skills in both Arabic and English.

Abstracts in Arabic